By Barbara Harrison

The elephant in the room has been addressed:

The Eagles handed insider linebacker Mychal Kendricks a fat four-year extension after having gone from trade bait to vital player for the Birds.

Among inside linebackers, Kendricks’ new contract places him behind Pro Bowl players such as Bobby Wagner, Lawrence Timmons and NaVorro Bowman.

To hear Eagles defensive leader DeMeco Ryans tell it, Kendricks will soon be mentioned with that exclusive company.

“He still has a ways to go, he can still get much better. He knows that,” Ryans said, via CSN Philly. “The sky is the limit for Mychal, but I think before it’s said and done, he could be the best inside linebacker in this league.”

Kendricks has joined Julius Peppers and Lavonte David as the only players to record at least eight sacks, three interceptions and five forced fumbles over the past two seasons. Despite missing four games last year, he placed near the top of all inside linebackers in quarterback hits and hurries.

The Eagles surrendered just 59 receptions and one touchdown to opposing tight ends in 2014. The key was Kendricks’ 0.43 yards per coverage snap, the lowest figure in the league among off-the-ball linebackers, per Pro Football Focus.

Although Kendricks lacks prototypical size, his rare closing speed and quickness are ideally suited to counter the changes in offense over the past half-decade.

“With all of the spread-out offenses that are out there, you need speed and athleticism,” defensive coordinator Billy Davis explained.

“In the old days, especially in a 3-4, we used to find big guys like the Levon Kirklands, who could butt heads with a guard. But you don’t need that quite as much anymore. At least in our style we don’t need that.”

Kendricks is a three-down linebacker with sideline-to-sideline range. The 2011 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year led his position in the 40-yard dash (4.47), vertical jump (39.5″) and broad jump (10 feet, 7 inches) at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine.

“Mychal is the most explosive guy on this team and one of the most explosive athletes in the entire league,” raved linebackers coach Rick Minter. “His ability to rush, cover, press the run, run guys down. … With the game becoming more and more a space game, you’re glad you have a guy like him because DeMeco can’t do some of those things athletically.”

In Kendricks, Ryans and 2013 rookie sensation Kiko Alonso, the Eagles boast an inside linebacker trio that can compete with any in the NFL.


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